Home > Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 335 – School curriculum [45680/22].

[Oireachtas] Dáil Éireann debate. Written answer 335 – School curriculum [45680/22]. (20 Sep 2022)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2022...

335. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Education if her Department has seen and evaluated the content of an alcohol education campaign created by an alcohol industry funded organisation (details supplied) in some Irish schools; the reason this content has not been made publicly available; if she intends to ban the use of alcohol education materials in schools which are provided by alcohol industry funded organisations; if she will issue clear guidelines prohibiting partnership with alcohol industry funded organisations in the delivery of education and services related to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45680/22]

Minister for Education: My Department has no plans to promote any resources for schools that may be developed by the drinks industry. It is a matter for schools and teachers in the first instance to determine what resources and supports they will use to support their implementation of the curriculum. Teachers are equipped to make such decisions as a result of their initial teacher education and the ongoing support provided by the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST). There are also protocols in place to ensure that strict criteria are observed by schools when inviting external agencies to address students about particular issues.

The issue of alcohol misuse is addressed in the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) programme, which has a specific module on the use and misuse of a range of substances. As students progress through the SPHE programme, they encounter a wide range of issues, including substance misuse. Schools have a role to play in supporting their students to develop the key skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed choices when faced with difficult issues, including drugs, alcohol and gambling.

SPHE is currently mandatory in all primary schools and in Junior Cycle, where it forms part of the mandatory 'Wellbeing' area of learning. Schools are also encouraged to deliver the SPHE programme in senior cycle.

Relevant topics in SPHE include student decision-making skills and safety and protection. Students learn how to exercise judgement, weigh up different possibilities, examine the steps and choices that guide them towards considered decision-making, begin to understand their own rights and the rights of others, and explore decision-making. In respect of safety, students’ ability to assess the consequences of risky behaviour is also developed.

In 2020, the NCCA established two development groups, one for primary and one for post-primary, to oversee the work in the area of SPHE/RSE curricular redevelopment and support the development of guidance material for schools.

The immediate focus of the work of the NCCA has been on creating support materials for teachers for publication online as part of an Interim Guidance Toolkit. The toolkit's purpose is to support effective teaching and learning of SPHE/RSE linked to the current curriculum and to provide guidance on how SPHE/RSE may be approached in a more holistic way.

In tandem with this work, preparation for the broader redeveloping and updating of the SPHE curriculum is underway. Updated curricula will be developed for Primary, Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle. A draft revised Junior Cycle specification was published for consultation on 18 July, with the consultation process running until 18 October. The consultation will take feedback from teachers and students as well as other interested groups and individuals and I would encourage anyone with an interest in this area to engage with the consultation. More information on the consultation process, including how to contribute to it, is available on the NCCA’s website.

It is expected that the finalised Junior Cycle specification will be presented to Council for approval by the end of this year, before being sent to me for approval ahead of planned implementation in schools in September 2023. The draft updated specification provides clear direction on the knowledge and skills that all students should gain during the 3 years of Junior Cycle SPHE. It places a strong focus on the development of important life skills that young people need growing up in a fast changing and complex world.

For example, the draft Junior Cycle SPHE specifications addresses the issue of alcohol and addiction in Strand 2: Making healthy choices. The learning outcomes of this strand includes investigating how unhealthy products are markets and advertised to appeal to young people; analysing the supports and challenges for young people when it comes to healthy choices about addictive substances and overcoming them; and discussing the physical, social, and legal consequences of their own or others’ use of addictive substances. The topic is also touched in Strand 4 - Emotional wellbeing, where students explore the potential impact of substance us on mental health.

A background paper that will inform the updating of senior cycle SPHE/RSE is intended to be brought to Council this month. This will be followed by a period of consultation. It is intended that the curriculum redevelopment work will commence in October with the first meeting of the development group. A draft updated curriculum for senior cycle SPHE will be ready for public consultation by summer 2023 and finalised in early 2024 for implementation in schools in September 2024.

Following publication of the Primary Curriculum Framework, expected in early 2023, the NCCA will establish a development group which is due to commence development on updated primary specifications in Quarter 4 2022, with a draft estimated to be available for public consultation in Quarter 1 2024.

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